Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette on Dec. 17 issued an order prohibiting electric utilities that supply critical defense facilities from procuring certain power system items from China.
The order takes effect Jan. 16, 2021, and is designed to reduce the risks that entities associated with China pose to the nation’s bulk-power system (BPS), The Department of Energy said in a release.
It prohibits utilities that supply critical defense facilities from procuring specific BPS electric equipment from China that poses an undue risk to the BPS, the security or resilience of critical infrastructure, the economy, national security, or safety and security of Americans.
A BPS is vital to the country’s energy security, supporting national defense, emergency services, critical infrastructure, and the economy. It encompasses a large interconnected electrical system made up of generation and transmission facilities and their control systems.
Bulk power equipment consists of items used in bulk power system substations, control rooms, or power plants, including nuclear reactors, capacitors, substation transformers, large generators and backup generators, and other equipment, according to The White House.
“The bulk-power system is the backbone of our Nation’s energy infrastructure and is fundamental to our national security, the American economy, and our way of life,” Brouillette said.
“It is imperative we secure the BPS against attacks and exploitation by foreign adversaries. This order is one of several steps this Administration is taking to greatly diminish the ability of our foreign adversaries to target our critical electric infrastructure.”
Specifically, the order prohibits utilities that supply the defense facilities at a service voltage of 69kV or above from acquiring, importing, transferring, or installing bulk power system electric equipment, and is specific to select equipment manufactured or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of the People’s Republic of China.
It is not clear which defense sites were considered critical.
The Department of Energy said (pdf) it has reason to believe that China is equipped and actively planning to undermine the nation’s BPS.
In May, President Donald Trump signed a similar executive order seeking to secure America’s BPS from foreign adversaries by prohibiting the procurement or installation of BPS equipment sourced abroad if the U.S. government determines it poses an unacceptable risk to national security or the security and safety of American citizens.
China and Russia were singled out for possessing “highly advanced cyber programs” that “pose a major threat to the U.S. government, including, but not limited to, military, diplomatic, commercial, and critical, infrastructures.”
The new order comes after the Department of Energy on Dec. 17 said that it was hacked by malware injected into its networks after a SolarWinds update, but that its national security functions were not impacted, including for the agency that manages the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.